Texas Longhorns: Tyrone Swoopes

Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from him. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

No. 18 Tyrone Swoopes
Sophomore quarterback


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AP Photo/Eric GayTyrone Swoopes is still a work-in-progress at quarterback and 2014 could be a crucial season for him.
Recruitment rewind: A superstar at small-town, Class 2A Whitewright (Texas) High, Swoopes accounted for 9,191 yards of offense and 114 TDs as a quarterback/safety/returner whose rushing ability evoked comparisons to Vince Young. The nation's elite all wanted him (offer list here) and Texas went all-in on Swoopes over J.T. Barrett, who signed with Ohio State. But throughout 2012, Swoopes dropped in ESPN's rankings after shaky performances in national camps and a frustrating senior year in which Whitewright went 1-9. He went from being the No. 1 dual-threat QB in the initial ESPN 300 to off the list and 35th among all athlete prospects in the final rankings.

Career so far: Swoopes enrolled early and excited fans with his spring game debut. He was set to redshirt, but the loss of David Ash prompted Texas coaches to insert Swoopes midway through the season, starting with the final minutes of a win over TCU. He played in five games, rushing for 79 yards and a TD and completing 5 of 13 passes for 26 yards. Swoopes played with the No. 1 offense for much of spring ball this year after Ash went down with a foot injury and threw for 229 yards and three TDs in the spring game.

Best-case scenario for 2014: If Swoopes is called upon to play a significant role this season, can he be competent and confident in running Texas' offense? Will Shawn Watson be able to bring out the best in him and unlock some of that potential we all saw in Swoopes as a junior at Whitewright? The 6-foot-4, 240-pound sophomore might be a long-term project as a passer, but if he's forced to start and can prove to be a capable game manager who makes good decision and takes what's given to him, that would awfully encouraging.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The new coaching staff might have a different perspective on what Swoopes brings to this team. Watson had good things to say about Swoopes' development this spring and seems genuinely committed to making the most of his talents. But if Jerrod Heard proves to be the long-term answer, might Swoopes be in for a move to tight end? Texas isn't in good enough shape with its quarterback depth to make such a move now, but based on Swoopes' impressive size and wheels, it's an option to keep in mind down the road.

Future expectations: Swoopes is a better player than he showed in his brief appearances last season. He should've played more once the redshirt was wasted, but instead only has four games of mop-up time and one bad appearance in the Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon to show for his first season. If Ash stays healthy and Swoopes stays on the bench in 2014, he'll have much more time to learn and improve and will be in better shape to compete for the starting job a year from now. If Texas coaches invest patience and time into his development, it could be rewarded richly in the future.
The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

We continue the series with the Texas Longhorns:

Strongest position: Running back

Not only does Texas have the best one-two punch at running back in the Big 12, the Longhorns might also have the league’s best two overall running backs.

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David K Purdy/Getty ImagesA healthy Johnathan Gray will make the Longhorns' backfield deep and talented.
Before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury Nov. 9 at West Virginia last year, Johnathan Gray was well on his way to having an all-conference-caliber season. Despite getting limited touches at times, Gray rushed for at least 89 yards during a six-game span and was well on his way to achieving the feat again against the Mountaineers until the Achilles injury.

Malcolm Brown picked up where Gray left off and rushed for 128, 131 and 130 yards in Texas’ final three games while averaging almost five yards per a carry. From the beginning of November to the bowl season, Brown was the Big 12’s leading rusher, with an average of 112 yards per game.

Soon, Brown will be getting his backfield mate back. Gray missed the spring while recuperating, but coach Charlie Strong has said he’s hopeful Gray will be cleared by mid-June.

Either player is a handful for an opposing defense. Together, when healthy, they’re a load.

Both can catch passes out of the backfield. Both can pound the ball between the tackles. Both can make opponents miss in the open field. Both have experience shouldering the rushing load.

And with veteran Joe Bergeron (assuming he rejoins the squad) and big-play threat Jalen Overstreet flanking Gray and Brown, as well, the running back position gives Strong a foundation piece on offense in his first season.

Weakest position: Quarterback

The Longhorns really only have one glaring weakness on their roster, but it’s a weakness that has plagued the program since Colt McCoy was behind center.

For the fifth straight year, quarterback once again is a position of concern for the Longhorns heading into a season.

David Ash, the only quarterback on the team with any meaningful experience, missed most of last season with lingering concussion issues, then missed most of this spring with a fractured foot.

Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes struggled mightily through the first half of Texas’ spring practice and doesn’t look ready to take over a Big 12 offense.

And since former USC Trojans QB Max Wittek appears unlikely to transfer to Texas now, that leaves incoming freshman Jerrod Heard as Texas’ only other quarterback option.

Ash has the ability to lead Texas into Big 12 title contention. At times in his career he’s been excellent, including in the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. But over three seasons, Ash has yet to display the week-to-week consistency needed to guide a team to a conference title. Now, who knows how the concussion issues might affect the remainder of his career?

Swoopes, in place of Ash, ended up posting a decent box score line in Texas’ spring game. But facing the Horns’ second-team defense, Swoopes’ first four drives ended with an interception, a punt, a three-and-out and a missed field goal after his first three offensive plays failed to net a single yard. Swoopes’ only first-quarter completion came on a screen pass.

There's no doubt, Swoopes has potential, with good mobility and a big arm. But he seems at least another year in the system away from realizing any of that potential.

That leaves Heard, who is the sixth-best incoming dual-threat quarterback recruit in the country. Heard is skilled and a winner, having led his high school team to a pair of state championships. But he'll also be a true freshman. And if Texas is forced to play a true freshman at quarterback, it will only further underscore its weakness at the position going into the season.
Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices and what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- If not for that foot, this might not be a discussion.

We don't know when or how the injury occurred, and David Ash might not either. If it pained him greatly, he'd been hiding it well. But that injury nagged the junior enough to eventually lead to a visit to the trainers. They quickly recognized surgery would come next.

Since Ash was shut down on April 11, to recover from surgery for a Jones fracture in his left foot, the Longhorns have been living in a world of uncertainty at the quarterback position.

[+] EnlargeKyle Van Noy
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsInjuries and questionable performances have plagued David Ash's career.
Here's where things stand with the four most likely candidates to start Texas' Aug. 30 season opener against North Texas.

The incumbent: David Ash

Résumé: 28 career games, 21 starts (record: 15-7), 4,538 passing yards, 63.2 percent passer, 30 passing TDs, 18 INTs, 7.8 career YPA, 396 rushing yards, 4 rushing TDs.

Pros: Ash enters his fourth year in the program with two remaining years of eligibility and was a statistically underrated performer as a full-time starter in 2012. Threw for 2,699 yards and 19 TDs with eight INTs in 12 games as a true sophomore that year. Had great road performances in 2012 wins over Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Ole Miss. Brings experience, ideal size, a strong arm, mobility in the pocket, and he throws a pretty ball. Offers a sneaky rushing component with rushing TDs of 55 and 49 yards on his résumé.

Concerns: Bad luck with injuries: Broken ribs in 2012, concussions in 2013 and the foot fracture in 2014. Expected to become a leader of the team last fall before going down, and was still developing as a leader in 2012. Two bad performances against Oklahoma, several other inconsistent starts.

Questions: Can he stay healthy, or is he one hit away from being done? Charlie Strong expects to have him back by mid-July, but if the recovery time extends into August, Ash will be put in a tough spot. Can he shake off the rust again and master a new offense?

The free agent: Max Wittek

Résumé: 10 career games at USC, 2 starts (record: 0-2), 600 career passing yards, 52.6% passer, 3 passing TDs, 6 INTs, 6.3 career YPA, -46 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD.

Pros: Wittek will leave USC as a graduate transfer with two remaining years of eligibility. If he chooses Texas, he comes to Austin possessing an undeniable amount of untapped potential. Prototypical size at 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, with a reputation for having a rifle arm and an ability to make all the throws. Isn't afraid to attack defenses deep. Nation's No. 3 QB prospect out of high school. Great first name.

Concerns: Struggled in his only two starts with the Trojans, going a combined 28-for-60 for 293 yards, two TDs and five INTs against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. Failed out beat out Cody Kessler for starting job in 2013. Did not play in nine games last season. Despite having all the tools, decision-making was considered his issue.

Questions: Wittek has yet to officially commit to Texas despite three visits to Austin this spring. Could he show up in May or June and still do enough to catch up and give Ash a real competition? Is he a real solution to Texas' quarterback problem in 2014 or is this fools' gold?

The wild card: Tyrone Swoopes

Résumé: Five career games, 0 starts, 5 for 13 passing, 26 yards, 0 passing TDs, 0 INTs, 20 rushes, 79 yards, 1 rushing TD.

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Max Olson/ESPNJerrod Heard is a true dual-threat QB and a proven winner at the high school level, but can he learn the offense over the summer and take the Texas QB job?
Pros: Swoopes demonstrated his potential to the new staff in the final week of spring practice, and Strong believed he was two close misses on touchdown throws away from having a strong day in the spring game. Same size as Wittek and a capable runner. Still learning how to use his big arm. Praised for how he's learning the offense. A different player when he's confident and comfortable. Only a true sophomore.

Concerns: He's raw. Should've redshirted in 2013 and might benefit greatly from doing so in 2014. Passing mechanics need work. Still has much to learn about throwing against college defenses. Looked nervous, erratic in extended time vs. Oregon. Could develop into the full package in time but needs lots of time and patience.

Question: Will Texas need Swoopes this fall? He'll study and prepare with every intent of playing, but again, wouldn't a redshirt be preferential? Will Swoopes be ready to go if he's called upon? How far away is he from being a starting-caliber passer?

The future: Jerrod Heard

Résumé: Won two state championships and 36 games at Denton (Texas) Guyer, with 6,524 passing yards, 4,960 rushing yards, 134 total TDs in three seasons.

Pros: The true freshman arrives in June and brings impressive talent and pedigree. A true dual-threat who's elusive and quick in the open field. Good arm, good mechanics, great in play action. A winner who received a thorough education in playing QB from coaches who've trained several BCS passers. Lots of confidence.

Concerns: Didn't enroll early and has two months to learn scheme before fall camp. Great decision-maker in high school, but this is a new level. Continues to work on his accuracy. Somewhat undersized at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds.

Question: Is a redshirt the best approach here? Heard just might have enough talent to win this job at some point in the season, but would Strong and the staff prefer to give him the year off to learn?

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Calling Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes’ performance in the Orange-White spring game “inconsistent” or “up-and-down” doesn’t suffice. It’s too simplistic a summation of what was really a tale of two performances.

So we reviewed the film. Here’s a closer look at the plays that stood out from the second-year QB’s critical day.

The bad

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AP Photo/Michael ThomasQB Tyrone Swoopes showed flashes of his incredible talent, but was inconsistent in the Orange-White game.
We have to start off here only because of Swoopes’ rocky start. Facing a second-team defense, his first four drives as Texas’ QB went like this: Interception, punt, three-and-out and a missed field goal after three plays netted zero yards.

His only first-quarter completion was a screen pass. So was his second completion of the day. When Shawn Watson appeared for a quick in-game interview on Longhorn Network, he admitted Swoopes had “a little deer-in-the-headlights look” early on.

In fairness, his offensive line should take some of the blame for his early mistakes. Desmond Harrison ignored defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway on Swoopes’ first dropback, leading to an 11-yard sack. In a real game, Swoopes would’ve been flattened on that one.

On the next snap, right tackle Kennedy Estelle didn’t slow down a blitz from the slot by Naashon Hughes, who got good pressure. Dalton Santos did an impressive job of dropping back deep into coverage, leading Swoopes to try throwing the pass high. It sailed past his receiver and into walk-on Dylan Haines' arms.

Swoopes got oh-so-close on two potential touchdown balls to Jaxon Shipley. On the first, Shipley beat Chevoski Collins for an easy third-down TD over the middle if the pass was even chest-high. Instead, another overthrow that seemed more a product of Swoopes’ footwork.

He had a heck of a throw later when Shipley was fading to the right corner of the end zone. Swoopes put it in the perfect spot, right where Bryson Echols and Adrian Colbert had no chance to make a play, but just one yard too far from Shipley’s outstretched hands.

One more play to note, because it came right before Swoopes started to get rolling: The ugly conversion on fourth and 4 in the second quarter. Texas lined up in a power set with two tight ends and a fullback and went with a play-action pass that was well-protected.

But Swoopes looked right and didn’t find what he wanted. So he rolled left and fired a pass off his back foot. He was fortunate Shipley broke off his comeback route toward the sideline. The sophomore QB fit the pass into traffic for a difficult but important completion.

The response from Watson? Screaming. He threw down his headset and ripped into Swoopes, presumably for making the wrong look off the run fake and turning a tricky play into a much more difficult one.

The good

From there, Swoopes got better. Texas found the end zone three plays after the fourth-down pass to Shipley. Then, after a quick takeaway from the No. 1 defense, came the play that turned the tide for Swoopes.

He rolled to the right and all the way to the sideline on the final play of the first half. With Caleb Bluiett in close pursuit, Swoopes loaded up and fired a pass off his back foot that traveled at least 50 yards. The diminutive Daje Johnson pulled it down in a crowd of three defenders.

That, in one shiny nutshell, is what you can get when Swoopes’ raw tools are put to good use. A lucky completion, obviously, but one that still requires a cannon.

The Texas coaches were wise to simplify from there. Swoopes got in a zone by hitting some easy stuff, comebacks and passes over the middle and two bootleg passes to tight end Geoff Swaim. It’s also good vanilla ball for a spring game on TV.

Swoopes ended his day with a magnificent throw. Clean drop, looked off a safety, made the right read and threw a perfect ball that fluttered nearly 45 yards to Shipley. He pulled it down in between Collins and Colbert and finished for the score.

That gave Swoopes reason to celebrate. He watched, waited, even leaned in as he watched the ball. When he knew it was good, he threw up his hands and let out a shout. Plays like that build confidence, no matter the setting.

The unknown

There’s a lot more work to be done here. Watson will work with Swoopes on his mechanics this summer, though he says those fixes won’t need to be significant. He’ll get stronger -- though the physical tools are all there -- and he’ll spend a lot of time studying the scheme the summer.

But how far Swoopes advances by the end of summer and into fall camp will depend on what he puts in. With Jerrod Heard and, potentially, Max Wittek arriving in the summer, and David Ash returning from his foot fracture, reps with the No. 1 offense won’t be handed to Swoopes by default like they were over the final week of spring ball.

This isn’t to say Swoopes will be some forgotten man. Not at all. But if he wants to seriously contend for the job this fall, he’s going to have to master this offense and outwork everyone else.

If his rally on Saturday means anything, perhaps it’s this: Don’t count him out just yet.
This week's "Take Two" topic: Who will be Texas’ starting quarterback in the Longhorns’ Aug. 30 opener against North Texas?

Take 1: Max Olson -- David Ash

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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesIf David Ash can stay healthy, he's Texas' best option at quarterback for 2014.
When is the last time we saw David Ash at his best?

There are two correct answers: Either the second half of the 2013 opener against New Mexico State (a team that would go 2-10), or the second half of the 2012 Valero Alamo Bowl to rally past Oregon State.

Texas fans have been clinging to those fleeting flashes of brilliance for, what, eight months now? Those quarters are some of the best evidence that, when everything is clicking, Ash can operate a tempo offense with confidence and creativity.

But he has to do it for four quarters and 12 games if he wants to hold on to Texas’ starting quarterback job.

I don’t doubt that, barring another injury, Ash will be the guy behind center when the Longhorns open their season. He did enough this spring in nearly a dozen practices to show Charlie Strong and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson he’s the right quarterback to bet on.

The foot fracture Ash is recovering from now is a poorly timed setback, no question, and it prompts skeptics to point out Ash has now dealt with three troubling injuries (broken ribs, concussions, foot fracture) in less than two years.

An Ash optimist would point out this: As a true sophomore in 2012, he was a top-25 passer by QBR and efficiency standards. And, really, it won’t be easy for another QB to surpass him. Tyrone Swoopes should redshirt. Jerrod Heard is better off doing the same. That leaves potential transfer Max Wittek, who’d face three months of catching up this summer, to learn the offense.

As long as Ash doesn’t eliminate himself from the race with another injury, you only need that process of elimination to see it’s still his job to lose.

Take 2: Jake Trotter – Max Wittek

I don’t deny Ash has talent. But after missing an entire season due to lingering concussion issues, then most of a spring with a fractured foot, I’m skeptical of Ash’s long-term health. And that’s why I’m going another direction.

Swoopes showed in the spring game that he’s not ready to be the starting quarterback at Texas, even with a decent finish after a disastrous start. Heard is loaded with potential, but he’s going to be a true freshman.

That leaves USC transfer Max Wittek, who visited the Austin campus for a third time over the weekend, suggesting a decision to ink with the Longhorns could be imminent. Wittek will graduate from USC in May and will be eligible immediately wherever he decides to go. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Wittek might not be Bobby Layne, but given Ash’s injuries, Swoopes’ lack of polish and Heard’s complete inexperience, Wittek could very well be the best option for Strong’s maiden voyage.

Spring game review: Texas

April, 21, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas finished its first spring under new coach Charlie Strong with its annual Orange-White spring game on Saturday. The two-hour scrimmage was won by Texas' first-team offense 38-14, and while Tyrone Swoopes' up-and-down showing stole most of the attention, here are a few more takeaways from the Longhorns' spring finale:

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AP Photo/Michael ThomasTyrone Swoopes should improve as he gains confidence.
Best offensive performance: With only one other scholarship back available, you knew Malcolm Brown was in for a big workload. He kicked off his critical senior season with a solid day, picking up 82 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries and adding 26 yards and another score on two screen passes. Texas will need Johnathan Gray (torn Achilles) healthy and Joe Bergeron (academics) back if this run game is going to lead the way, but Brown could be poised for an All-Big 12 caliber season if he stays healthy.

Best defensive performance: Strong didn't need to watch any film to know who stood out on his defense on Saturday. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown was a "handful," in his eyes, and that was obvious to everyone in attendance. The junior lineman racked up five tackles, one tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry, and he spent plenty of time in the backfield. "When he wants to play," Strong said, "he can create a lot of havoc and can make plays."

Best debut: Not many candidates for this, since Texas had just three early enrollees, so let's give a little love to a walk-on. Dylan Haines is a name most Longhorns fans had never heard entering Saturday, but the defensive back stole the show in the first quarter by intercepting Swoopes' overthrown first pass attempt and returning it 23 yards. Haines, a second-year scout team player in 2013, was rewarded for his big play with reps on Texas' first-team defense.

Notable play: Swoopes' best play of the day was his last. He took a low snap midway through the fourth quarter, faked a handoff and hurled a deep ball to Jaxon Shipley, fitting it in perfectly between defensive backs Chevoski Collins and Adrian Colbert. Shipley pulled it down over his shoulder for a 44-yard touchdown, giving Swoopes plenty to smile about after a frustrating start to the day. The pass was by far the best Swoopes has thrown in his first year of action and, to some extent, an encouraging sign he's not afraid to take shots downfield.

Developing storyline: Texas has a chance to have one of the Big 12's better offensive lines this fall under the guidance of Joe Wickline, but this summer and fall camp will be critical toward fortifying that line and establishing needed depth. The mammoth Desmond Harrison must continue to develop at left tackle after a rough 2013 season. Kennedy Estelle and the injured Kent Perkins can become some of UT's best linemen in time. And the battle at right guard, between Taylor Doyle and Rami Hammad, isn't over. Wickline will start his five best, and that five should reveal itself over the next few months.

Biggest question answered: Is Swoopes the heir apparent at quarterback for Texas? He showed flashes in the spring game, particularly in the second half, but he never faced a first-team defense Saturday and his play early on served as a reminder why a redshirt would have been the right move last fall. Shawn Watson is encouraged by his potential and still has plenty to teach him this summer and beyond. Swoopes has raw tools and will get better as he gets more confident, but his coaches and fans should stay patient.

Quotable: "When you look at the level of concern, you look at today and you go out and say defensively you would like to play a lot better and get stops and make sure you don't allow teams to just consistently drive the football on you. Then on offense it is all about executing, but that is going to come with focus and with preparation. What happens is that the players understand what we are looking for and what we are all about. So once we understand that, things are going to get much better because they believe in the system. When they trust and believe in the system, then we are always going to have a chance." -- Strong

Spring game preview: Texas

April, 18, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The first Texas football game of the Charlie Strong era will look a lot more like a practice.

The Longhorns hit the field this weekend for the first time since Strong arrived. Even though fans can expect a more scrimmage-like approach to the annual Orange-White spring game, there will be plenty worth keeping an eye on.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

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Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMISophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes will get a chance to work with the No. 1 offense in a game setting Saturday.
What to watch for:

  • Swoopes' confidence: The last time we saw Tyrone Swoopes in action, he looked like a flustered freshman (he was, in fact, a freshman) trying his hardest not to mess up amid a beatdown from Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He wasn't afraid to take some shots, and he scrambled for a 28-yard gain, but all in all it was a tough ask for a first-year QB who still had a lot to learn. With David Ash sidelined, Swoopes gets a chance to run the No. 1 offense in the spring game and show how far he has come in 14 practices with Shawn Watson, Texas' new quarterbacks coach. Watson is enthusiastic about the sophomore's future and praises his work as a student of the game, but this is a chance to see how well he can execute with a crowd watching and a No. 1 defense coming after him. Strong says the key to Swoopes' play is confidence and playing within himself. Everyone in attendance on Saturday will want to see if he can do just that.
  • New-look defense: This is going to be a vanilla ballgame on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators acknowledged that after their final practice Thursday. Why give up the good stuff when any Big 12 opponent can DVR the game on Longhorn Network and pick it apart? Even fiery defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will show restraint. But how he lines this defense up, both in scheme and personnel, will be intriguing. Texas coaches say this will be a multiple defense capable of lining up in 4-3 or 3-4, and you could see a little bit of both on Saturday. No, the defenders can't touch Swoopes. But you better believe Bedford will demand they get after him and put up a fight.
  • Playmakers on the outside: The hype is building for this Longhorns receiving corps, and their coaches have had nothing but good things to say about a group that must make up for the loss of deep threat Mike Davis. Nobody will be surprised if Marcus Johnson is the breakout player of the spring game. He's a star in the making. Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson and Jacorey Warrick are all said to have had a big spring as well, and don't be shocked if you see tight end Geoff Swaim do some things in the passing game after primarily serving as a blocker in 2013.
  • Rising returnees: A new coaching staff means a clean slate for these Longhorns, and that means a fresh start for players who either weren't playing or were underperforming. The differences will be far more noticeable by August after a long summer of lifting and drills, but there will be some new standouts on Saturday. Guys such as safety Mykkele Thompson, offensive guard Taylor Doyle and linebacker Tim Cole have made an impression on the new staff and could do so again this weekend. Or perhaps it'll be someone nobody else is talking about, like how Duke Thomas caught everyone's eyes last year.
  • New sheriff in town: It's going to be a little strange to see someone other than Mack Brown on that sideline, isn't it? You know plenty of Texas fans will have their eyes on Strong for a glimpse of how he operates in a game setting and what he bring to the Texas sideline. You know the 100-plus recruits in attendance will care about that, too. For all the talk about how Strong is a stern coach out to lay down the law and whip the Longhorns into shape, let's see him have a little fun on Saturday.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong tried to play coy. Well, either that or he didn’t understand the question.

The question posed Tuesday was whether the first-year Texas coach can envision a quarterback joining this Longhorns program in the summer and competing for the starting job.

“I don’t know who that would be. You got somebody coming in for me?” Strong said before chuckling. “You got a secret guy coming here for me? We signed one in Jerrod [Heard]. He’s the only one.”

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Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMITexas QB Tyrone Swoopes will now run the first-team offense and coach Charlie Strong told him "This is your team and it's up to you to go lead."
This was, of course, a veiled attempt at the question Horns fans have been chewing on for weeks and, in particular, the past five days: Is Max Wittek coming to Texas?

The Longhorns’ need for the former USC quarterback looms large now that David Ash has been lost for the spring. Right now, there’s a whole lot more interest in the three passers who won’t be playing in the Orange-White spring game this Saturday than the trio who will.

Finally recovered from the concussion-related issues that ended his 2013 season early, Ash was poised to once again take control of the Texas offense and he made a strong first impression on his new coaches.

Those efforts got put on hold when UT doctors discovered a fracture in his left foot that required surgery.

“It’s very tough because the injury for him, I don’t know how long he had it, but he said it had been bothering him,” Strong said. “He came in the other day, our trainers checked him and we were able to find out exactly what was wrong.

“You would’ve never known he had the injury with just how well he was practicing and the way he’s been carrying himself. He understands this: A team is going to come and go as its quarterback goes. He wants to be the leader.”

Strong won’t call Ash his clear-cut No. 1 quarterback, at least not publicly, and said he didn’t anticipate naming a starter this spring. That decision will come during fall camp. But Ash had learned the new scheme and terminology, and he’s led the offense before.

With Ash out, Texas is left with three passers for its Saturday scrimmage at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will run the first-team offense. Walk-on Trey Holtz and converted tight end Miles Onyegbule, who prior to this spring hadn’t played QB since 2010, will get the backup snaps.

After the news of Ash’s injury broke, Strong told Swoopes to get ready to roll. This is, for the final week of spring ball, his offense.

“I told Tyrone the key thing for you is it’s all about confidence and it’s all about you just doing everything we ask you to do and play within yourself,” Strong said. “Now that you are the quarterback, just take the field and know this: This is your team and it’s up to you to go lead.”

In his six appearances as Texas quarterback last season, Swoopes played like a freshman. With the exception of three drives in a Valero Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon, the dual-threat quarterback with tantalizing size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and intriguing speed wasn’t asked to do much. He was inconsistent in the mop-up minutes he did receive.

Swoopes will remain a project until he gets more comfortable throwing the ball. His legs usually did the job while he thrived in small-town Whitewright, Texas, and he still has plenty to learn about beating Big 12 defenses.

But Strong saw enough last Saturday during a spring scrimmage to be encouraged, calling his performances “outstanding.”

“I don’t know his numbers, but he had really good numbers and threw an unbelievable ball to Marcus [Johnson] down the sideline where he beat one of our defensive backs, laid it out there and it was a big throw,” Strong said. “He did a really good job and he settled in. He took it and had the confidence and just had a different air about him, and did a really good job leading the offense.”

Still, quarterback is atop the list of Strong’s biggest concerns as Texas finishes off its first round of practices. The addition of Wittek, who has taken multiple visits to Austin and is expected to decide in the near future, would alleviate some of the worry.

So would a strong summer from Heard, a two-time state champion at Denton (Texas) Guyer who arrives the first week of June. Strong said he’ll get a chance to win the job like everyone else, but first he’ll have to master his playbook.

Heard will be in the stands on Saturday afternoon, with the thousands of other Longhorns fans. They'll be watching closely for the first round of a Texas quarterback battle, but the truth is, it hasn't even begun.
David Ash's broken foot is yet another blow to the Texas quarterback and his chances of locking down the starting quarterback job in 2014.

Ash missed the majority of the 2013 with concussion-like symptoms but was looking to get off to a fresh, and healthy, start under new coach Charlie Strong. Instead, this injury puts Ash back on the sideline for the remainder of the spring.

It’s the worst-case scenario for Ash in a lot of ways, as it opens the door for other quarterbacks to put a stranglehold on the position or, at the very least, give themselves an edge in the race to start for UT this fall. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is one of three healthy quarterbacks expected to be available for the Longhorns’ spring game on April 19 and will get the chance to impress the new coaching staff while the other main competitors in the quarterback derby watch from the sidelines. Even though Ash will miss just the final week of spring football, his injury still removes competition in the final days of spring.

More competition is on the way with class of 2014 signee Jerrod Heard joining the mix in the summer and USC transfer Max Wittek possibly joining the fray if he decides to transfer to Texas.

For Texas, Ash’s injury makes the spring game a bit more difficult with just three healthy quarterbacks set to participate. But, more importantly, Ash’s injury has reaffirmed the Longhorns’ need for multiple options at the quarterback position. Ash has started 21 games during his UT career, giving him the experience edge over all of his competitors and the coaching staff a bit some peace of mind with a veteran option at the position. But he’s been unable to shake the injury bug during the past year, essentially putting all of the quarterbacks on even ground heading into the competition. This injury won’t help his case as he tries to win the job and prove himself as the best option during Strong’s initial season in Austin, Texas.

Don’t be surprised if UT’s pursuit of Wittek becomes an even higher priority, Swoopes’ development starts to accelerate and Heard’s summer is spent preparing the true freshman to play immediately.

Because if UT has learned anything from the past 12 months at the quarterback position, it's that one injury can turn Plan B into Plan A in a heartbeat.
Every year, true freshmen enroll in college early to participate in spring ball, often with hopes of augmenting their chances for playing time in the fall. More times than not, it doesn’t work out that way.

Last year, 21 high school seniors enrolled early in the Big 12. Below is a breakdown of the outcomes from their first college seasons:

Baylor
QB Chris Johnson: A highly-touted, four-star signee, Johnson got a valuable extra spring working under coach Art Briles. But Bryce Petty was healthy and tremendous all season and Seth Russell proved to be a more than a viable backup, prompting Johnson to redshirt. After Petty and then Russell, Johnson appears to be the next in a budding line of superb Baylor QBs.

Iowa State
OT Shawn Curtis: Curtis was the top recruit in the Cyclones' 2013 class. Though Jacob Gannon and Brock Dagel seem entrenched at the tackle positions, Curtis will have ample opportunity to work into the two-deep this fall.

LB Alton Meeks: The versatile Meeks settled in as a linebacker in Ames. He too redshirted, and he too could step into the two-deep next season.

Kansas
DB Colin Spencer: Spencer, who redshirted last season, was recruited as a defensive back but has since been moved to halfback/flanker with the Jayhawks looking for pass-catching help.

Kansas State
K Matthew McCrane: Watched as Jack Cantele won the starting place-kicking job as a sophomore. Will have to wait awhile before getting another shot.

Oklahoma
WR Dannon Cavil: Cavil turned heads with his combination of size and speed in the spring, and he seemed primed to break into the receiving rotation. But that never happened, and he wound up redshirting. With 2013 starters Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester gone, Cavil will have another chance at playing time this spring.

S Ahmad Thomas: Thomas created a buzz in the spring, but couldn’t topple veterans Quentin Hayes, Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson. He is vying for a starting job this spring and figures to be a key part of the secondary in 2014.

DE D.J. Ward: The No. 1-rated player from the state of Oklahoma, Ward endured qualifying issues that kept him from participating for much of spring ball. Then during the preseason, he had to have his spleen removed, which forced a redshirt. Ward has talent, but he needs to catch a break.


Oklahoma State
DE Naim Mustafaa: The Cowboys swiped this four-star recruit just in time to get him enrolled for spring ball. But Mustafaa left the team over the summer. He landed at Miami, but he bolted from there too during the season.

Texas
LB Deoundrei Davis: Davis spent the year redshirting and recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in high school. The Longhorns remain stacked at linebacker, so Davis will have another season to improve his strength and agility.

C Jake Raulerson: Raulerson also redshirted, giving him the opportunity to bulk up as he moved to the interior of the line. He should back up senior Dominic Espinosa this season and is on track to be the center of the future.

QB Tyrone Swoopes: Former coach Mack Brown controversially pulled Swoopes’ redshirt midway through the season, but Swoopes never unseated Case McCoy and attempted only 13 passes the entire season. Swoopes has all the tools, but will need to show more polish this spring to make a serious run at Texas’ influx starting quarterback job.

TCU
QB Zach Allen: The Horned Frogs had massive issues at the quarterback spot after Casey Pachall suffered a broken forearm, but Allen never was called on for help and redshirted instead. He’s battling Trevone Boykin and Tyler Matthews for the job this spring, and the pressure will be on to make an impression to the new offensive regime, with Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer set to join the QB competition over the summer.

TE Bryson Burtnett: After redshirting last season, Burtnett could help the Horned Frogs as a blocking tight end this fall.

OT Eason Fromayan: Also redshirted last season. Tackle is a position of concern for TCU, but there are other options that appear to be ahead of him in the pecking order early in spring ball.

Texas Tech
QB Davis Webb: Kliff Kingsbury’s first QB signee, Webb had quite the rollercoaster first season. With the favorite to start, Michael Brewer, ailing with a back injury, Webb had a golden opportunity to seize the starting job. Instead, walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield beat him out. Webb made the most of his opportunities when they came, though. After Mayfield suffered a knee injury, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. After Mayfield transferred, Webb delivered one of the best bowl performances of any QB, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in a convincing win over heavily-favored Arizona State. As the only scholarship QB currently on campus, Webb is finally the clear-cut starter going into 2014. And if he builds on his bowl showing, he could have a monster sophomore campaign.

West Virginia
LB Hodari Christian: Christian redshirted last season. Considering the Mountaineers are loaded with experience at linebacker, it could be some time before Christian steps onto the field defensively.

S Malik Greaves: Greaves too redshirted in 2013 and is currently listed this spring as the third-team “spur” linebacker behind K.J. Dillon and Marvin Gross.

QB Chavas Rawlins: Rawlins went through spring ball with the Mountaineers, but he left the program after spring ball because the coach that had recruited him, Jake Spavital, left West Virginia to become the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. Rawlins ended up enrolling at Duquesne.

WR Daikiel Shorts: Shorts was arguably the most impressive true freshman during the preseason for West Virginia and ended up starting nine games. He also tied for the team lead with 45 receptions and figures to be a playmaking cornerstone in Morgantown.

RB Wendell Smallwood: Smallwood started out helping on special teams, but he eventually carved out a role on the offense as a third-team running back behind Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith. He finished the season with 221 rushing yards on 39 carries. Even though carries will be competitive to get again, Smallwood’s versatility should cement him a role in the offense.

Who to watch in spring: Tyrone Swoopes

February, 28, 2014
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Editor's note: This is the fifth and final part of a weeklong series taking a closer look at Texas players worth watching when the Longhorns begin spring practices in three weeks.

You might be wondering why a series about Longhorns who need to thrive this spring isn’t wrapping up with a treatise on quarterback David Ash and his comeback from the concussion-related symptoms that shut him down in 2013.

[+] EnlargeSwoopes
AP Photo/Eric GayCan Tyrone Swoopes impress the new Texas coaching staff?
Well, yes, he’s plenty important this spring and fall. But we know what Ash is capable of at his best -- he was a top-25 passer in several metrics as a true sophomore starter. We don’t know what’s next for Tyrone Swoopes.

He was put in an impossible situation last fall as a true freshman who needed to redshirt and get used to the college level. Swoopes’ cameo in the middle of the season, in the final minutes of a blowout win at TCU, was the first of his six appearances.

The experiment went about how we should’ve expected. Swoopes had too much to learn and never looked comfortable or confident. His practice performances improved late in the season, but that didn’t translate during his occasional playing time.

The last time we saw Swoopes, he completed 1 of 6 passes for 8 yards and rushed for 38 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl loss to Oregon. A 26-yard rush was encouraging, and maybe the highlight of his season, but nothing else came easy for the first-year passer.

He has a chance to change things this spring, under a new quarterbacks coach in Shawn Watson, and he’ll get plenty of opportunity to get better. Here’s the best thing working in Swoopes’ favor in March and April: He’ll get a ton of snaps.

Once spring ball is over, freshman Jerrod Heard enters the program and the competition. USC transfer Max Wittek could, too. No matter who’s in the mix this summer and fall camp, Swoopes should be battling for the No. 2 job with the understanding he’s one snap away from being the starter.

Watson has experience with the inexperienced, preparing Teddy Bridgewater and Taylor Martinez to play as freshmen at his previous two gigs, and Swoopes appears to have some raw tools that can wow his new coach.

But it’s still going to take time and patience if Texas wants to see Swoopes reach his ceiling, and he’ll need to work hard to master this new scheme.

He’s got a chance to flash his potential in a more meaningful way this spring, while the Longhorns only have two scholarship QBs on campus. Time to take advantage and show the new coaches what he can become over time.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: QBs

February, 18, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, beginning Tuesday with quarterback. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty's return leaves Baylor sitting pretty at the most important position on the field.
1. Baylor: The Bears have the reigning first-team All-Big 12 quarterback in Bryce Petty, who should be even better in his second season as a starter. In 2013, Petty led the Big 12 in QBR, and was on the short list of Heisman candidates until mid-November. His play dipped a bit late in the season, but Petty still finished with 44 total touchdowns to just three interceptions. He will start out on the Heisman short list again in 2014. The Bears also have a viable backup in Seth Russell.

2. Kansas State: Junior college transfer Jake Waters was one of the most improved players in the league over the course of the season. Waters split time with Daniel Sams through the first half of the year, but eventually took command of the starting position and spearheaded the Wildcats to wins in six of their last seven games to ride a wave of momentum into the offseason. Like Petty, Waters should only get better in his second season as a starter. Sams figures to be moved around this spring, but he has proven he can step in at QB, too.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners were one of the most inconsistently quarterbacked teams in the league, notably during double-digit losses to Texas and Baylor. But with one game, OU’s situation looks completely different. In just his fifth career start, freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, leading the Sooners to one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history. Insiders in Norman always thought Knight had the talent. The switch just finally flipped in New Orleans. Even with Blake Bell moving to tight end, the Sooners have depth with former four-star QBs Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen.

4. Texas Tech: Davis Webb also delivered one of the best bowl performances of any quarterback. After Baker Mayfield transferred, the plan was for Webb to split snaps with Michael Brewer against Arizona State. But Webb played so well, that plan was scrapped. Webb had the fourth-best QBR of any bowl to lead Tech to the upset. Webb actually played pretty well before the bowl, too, and has a promising future in Lubbock. The Red Raiders, however, are thin here. With Mayfield and Brewer transferring, Patrick Mahomes is Tech’s only other scholarship QB, and he doesn’t arrive until the summer.

5. Oklahoma State: To enjoy success here, the Cowboys will need J.W. Walsh to return to his efficient 2012 form. Or, they will need Mason Rudolph to emerge as a true freshman the way Wes Lunt did two springs ago. Walsh took a step back as a sophomore. He completed 67 percent of his passes in 2012, but just 59 percent last season, and eventually lost his job back to Clint Chelf. Rudolph, the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, had no such issues completing passes in high school, connecting on 72 percent for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. If Walsh’s arm strength continues to be a problem, Rudolph could quickly go from QB of the future to QB of the now.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesA healthy David Ash would be a welcome sight for Charlie Strong.
6. Texas: The Longhorns might have the most fluid quarterback predicament in the Big 12. Quarterback play haunted Mack Brown the last four years, but will it haunt Charlie Strong in his first season? That could hinge heavily on the health of David Ash, who missed almost all of last season because of concussion issues. The school says Ash will be ready to go for the spring. But if he suffers another head injury, the Longhorns could be in a fix. Tyrone Swoopes has wheels and a big arm, but still needs a lot of polish, and four-star signee Jerrod Heard won’t be in Austin until the summer.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have no fewer than four quarterbacks with a reasonable chance of becoming the starter. Paul Millard and Clint Trickett shared duties last season, though neither seized the position. Millard is playing baseball, and Trickett is still banged up. That could open the door for junior-college transfer Skyler Howard to make a move on the job. Keep an eye on true freshman William Crest, though. Crest, the No. 11 dual-threat QB in the country, won’t arrive until after the spring. But the Mountaineers have had success with mobile freshman quarterbacks before.

8. TCU: The Horned Frogs first must decide what they’re going to do with Trevone Boykin. But they can’t afford to leave him at receiver until another viable option surfaces at QB. Tyler Matthews didn’t look ready in limited action, but the Horned Frogs have a pair of intriguing possibilities in Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein. Neither, however, will arrive until the summer, meaning TCU’s QB situation will remain unresolved past the spring.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones have the requisite skill talent to bounce back from a disappointing season. But that won’t happen until they stop playing musical quarterbacks. The answer could be Grant Rohach, who played well late in his redshirt freshman season. Sam B. Richardson will also be in the mix. Richardson was never healthy last year, and had the same kind of promising finish in 2012 that Rohach delivered last season. The darkhorse will be Joel Lanning, who redshirted last year. Lanning, who signed with Iowa State over Nebraska, has the arm to make this a three-way battle.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks add another player to the Jake Heaps/Montell Cozart timeshare in UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Neither Heaps nor Cozart did enough to warrant full-time snaps, so Millweard, a former four-star recruit, will have his chance this spring.

Texas position groups to improve: No. 1

February, 14, 2014
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Texas is getting off to a later-than-usual start to its spring practices this year, with Charlie Strong set to lead the Longhorns onto the practice field for the first time on March 18.

Until then, we’re counting down everything you need to know entering next season and the next era of Texas football. This week, we’re breaking down the five position groups with the most room to improve in 2014. We’ve already broken down the tight ends, defensive tackles, safeties and offensive line. Here’s No. 1 on the list.

David Ash
Max Olson/ESPNDavid Ash is likely to reclaim his starting quarterback job this spring.
1. Quarterbacks

The players: David Ash, Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard, Trey Holtz

Last year: You know the story. Ash suffered a concussion in the second game of 2013, played the first half against Kansas State and then was done for the season. Case McCoy led a six-game win streak and had Texas on the brink of a Big 12 title. Swoopes’ redshirt was burned midway through the season and he appeared in six games. Holtz, a walk-on, has never played.

What’s missing: Is there an addition on the way? Strong has acknowledged he would like to add a fourth quarterback to this group, and former USC starter Max Wittek will reportedly visit Texas this month. There have also been initial talks with former Houston QB Bram Kohlhausen about walking on. Texas is in need of another arm and another option after Connor Brewer transferred and Jalen Overstreet moved to tailback a year ago.

Another missing piece here: Heard was unable to enroll early. That leaves Texas with just Ash and Swoopes to learn the system and lead the offense in spring ball. Heard will arrive in May and get right to work, but that late start could make a redshirt more preferable.

Moving forward: Ash is the clear frontrunner to take back his starting job, and getting him fully cleared both for offseason workouts and spring ball is a huge step forward. Getting to work with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson should be beneficial, but remember, this is Ash’s third quarterback coach in three seasons. He needs to get back to where he once was, and then he needs to get better.

Getting Swoopes a ton of reps is spring ball should be a very good thing for his development. He needs to make real progress in the next few months, because he’s one big Ash hit away from being the starting quarterback in 2014.
Now is the time when the foundation of future success is built.

The offseason is when players start to emerge as potential stars of the future or contributors who will change the fortunes of their teams. Here are some names to keep an eye on during the offseason in the Big 12:

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: At this time last season, people were talking about the Bears landing Rhodes, the No. 35 player in the 2013 ESPN 300. He finished with 10 receptions for 157 yards as a freshman. The sophomore has terrific speed, athleticism and big-play ability and could emerge as the replacement for Tevin Reese in Baylor’s explosive attack.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Eric GayIt's important for Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to have a productive spring in 2014.
Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: It’s an important offseason for Knott, who is recovering from hip surgery. Knott, the younger brother of former Cyclone star Jake Knott, started five games as a redshirt freshman and recorded 45 tackles before the season-ending hip injury. If he returns to full health for his sophomore season he should be a major part of ISU’s defense in 2014.

Quarterback Montell Cozart, Kansas: After an up-and-down freshman season, Cozart will have to compete hard to remain atop KU’s depth chart this offseason. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will enter the competition alongside Cozart and Jake Heaps, so it will be critical for Cozart to make a jump to another level during the offseason.

Quarterback Daniel Sams, Kansas State: This offseason provides an opportunity for coach Bill Snyder to decide the best way to use the dynamic Sams. Sams could be a playmaker at several different positions in the Wildcats’ attack so seeing where the junior ends up is intriguing.

Tight end Blake Bell, Oklahoma: It’s been an amazing first four years in Norman, Okla., for Bell, who went from making a name for himself as the Belldozer to leading the Sooners on a game-deciding drive against Oklahoma State, which changed the destination of the Big 12 title rings. Now he will make the transition to tight end for his final season.

Receiver Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State: The quarterback battle will garner its share of attention but Seales' continued development is just as important. Top receiver Josh Stewart is NFL-bound so whoever wins the quarterback derby will need a top target. Seales could be the perfect candidate with his size, athleticism and ball skills, but he needs to continue to develop if he hopes to become a consistent threat in 2014.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: Swoopes saw spot duty as a freshman, never really making an impact during Mack Brown’s final season as coach. The offseason will be a critical time for the sophomore to start making an impression on new coach Charlie Strong and cement himself into the plans at quarterback.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The junior combines terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and exceptional athleticism. Brown tied for the team lead with 36 receptions as a sophomore but it’s time for Brown to take his game to another level and emerge as a consistent playmaker for the Horned Frogs' offense. His goal next season should be to make his 2013 game against Texas (7 receptions, 87 yards, TD) just another Saturday.

Receiver Jordan Davis, Texas Tech: With Eric Ward and Jace Amaro heading to the next level, the Red Raiders are searching for playmakers at the receiver spot. Davis can help fill the void. He stepped up at various times in 2013, finishing with 28 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown, so he could be ready for a bigger role.

Running back Dreamius Smith, West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ second-leading rusher behind Charles Sims, Smith faces stiff competition to win the starting running back spot in 2014. Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie and Rushel Shell could emerge as the main in the WVU backfield so it’s important for Smith to have a strong offseason with quality competition nipping at his heels.

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